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May 22, 2013

Asian Water Summit Focuses on Security, Disaster

by Steve Sandford

Resource experts say many Asian countries face a potential water crisis unless they address mismanagement that could lead to severe shortages of clean water. Other states struggle to contain massive floods. The site of a just-concluded regional summit on the managing water supplies and disasters.

There was no sign of a water shortage here in northern Thailand as delegates gathered for the Asia-Pacific Water summit.

But inside, there was talk about an impending crisis facing Asia.

For the region's biggest users - India and China - there is a heavy price to pay for development, said U.N. Habitat advisor Dr. Kulwant Singh.

“Most of the industries that are driving the economic growth of the region require reliable supplies of fresh water for some part of their production cycle. Secondly, the regions expanding urban population needs more water for drinking, for personal hygiene, and for the industry, institutions and urban agriculture," said the advisor.

Studies say that water demand in India will double in the next 20 years to 1.5 trillion cubic meters, with China's needs rising by 32 percent.

Meanwhile, dams are being built on the Mekong river, and at least 11 new ones are in the planning stage - mostly within Chinese territory.  

These developments worry many, including  government delegates attending the conference.

“Over 60 percent of Vietnam's total water resources come from outside our territories and is distributed unevenly across and geographical regions of which 60 percent of the water resources is found in the south in the Mekong delta river," said Nguyen Thien Nhan, Deputy Prime Minister of Vietnam.

The delegates also focused on preventing water disasters, such as the massive floods in 2011 that claimed 800 lives in Thailand. 

Supajak Waree of Thailand's disaster warning center said Improved technology is one possible solution.

“We monitor the rain hot spots and have trained a network of people in different regions so that we can confirm accurate conditions with them. They're like a CCTV camera for us,” he said.

With the supply of clean and plentiful water seemingly imperiled, the effort to manage Asia's thirst for the precious liquid will continue.